Cancelling July 4th, but Not Totally, Apt. 11D, June 19, 2020
For me, July 4th will always remind me of vouchers for free hot dogs and pony rides at Tenafly, New Jersey’s annual Independence Day festival.
Every year, my best friend du jour and I would wait on a line for pink and light blue cotton candy that flew in the breeze. Back when the lines between adults and kids were more clearly drawn, my parents would never dream of accompanying us. My girlfriends and I would eat and drink our fill and walk home only when our pockets were empty of vouchers and coins. Sometimes our parents would take us to watch the fireworks later that evening, while seated in folding chairs in the town commons.
July 4th was, and has continued to be, a day of corny cheer and sugary treats. Maybe a local official or two might make some speeches that remind the youth about wars and fights for freedom. But this holiday has long been divorced from meaning and, instead, become a moment for pyrotechnics and pies.
Tomorrow, we will have the oddest July 4th ever. Celebrations are cancelled. There will be no pony rides and hot dogs for Tenafly’s latest crop of tots and tweens, because of fear of virus transmission. And lately, our nation’s founders have been cancelled in the modern twitter sense of the word.
The founders’ role in maintaining, and even promoting, the institution of slavery has been noted by leaders of BLM marches and by pundits. Washington’s statue in Washington Square Park in Manhattan was defaced this month. Others are being toppled along with the meanest Confederate generals.
Meanwhile, we have Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton playing tonight on the Disney channel. I proudly saw it on Broadway with the original cast and have played the soundtrack so many times that it is used as an element of torture for teenagers who refuse to wake up at a suitable time in the morning. Miranda’s Hamilton is a multi-cultural tribute to American values, to the spirit of revolution and the promise of immigration and the validity of the American dream. Like a Latino version of James Cagney’s Yankee Doodle Dandy, he celebrates our nation’s roots and mission. The color of George Washington changed, but he is the same good guy from history books.
We are clearly conflicted about this holiday and our origins. And perhaps that is a healthy process. It’s always better to think about ideas, than to let ourselves get lost in schmaltz. So, let’s talk about ideas for a minute…
The second sentence in the Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” — is heavily borrowed from the English enlightenment philosopher, John Locke.
Locke believed that God gives each of one of us certain rights that are imprinted on our soul and that are totally obvious to everyone. Those rights include the rights to self preservation and to own the land on which we toil. Those rights can’t be taken away, nor can we give them away willingly to a tyrannical king in exchange for safety and security. Freedom is baked into our souls, in other words. Everybody equally has those rights, even if we aren’t equal in any other way.
While the United States gave more people the right to vote and participate in government than any other large country in history, many were denied that privilege. If you were a woman or didn’t hold land, you were out of luck. Not to mention that Black people were denied those natural rights that Jefferson made such an important justification for revolution. Still, I believe that the ideas were purer than the person. The ideas were worth fighting and dying for, even if the individual himself was flawed.
I hope we can find a way to recognize contradictions and honor sacrifices of our origins, while improving on the original vision. It really is our only hope. The alternative is to tear everything down and be left with the nihilism and cruelty that exists on the anarchic Internet. Be well! Laura